“I try to encourage the kids to feel their feelings... to cultivate an environment where the boys can feel safe to cry or to feel emotions and to be loved.”
CORY ON RAISING HER SONS (5,2)
PORTLAND, OR | USA
Not looking hard enough
I'm completely befuddled by women who say they're not feminist. I don't get it and I don't understand it. My sense is probably that they don't understand what it is. The most simple and basic definition for me is just equality between men and women. It feels like: who would not be up for that?
If they don’t see that men and women aren’t equal, then they're not thinking or looking hard enough for that because I think once you see it, it's really hard to unsee it. Once you start to be able to key in and notice the ways that people are treated differently, it's really unsettling, I think, to live in a world where you're noticing it left and right. I always struggle with how other women don't see that inequality. I could maybe understand why men wouldn't see it because they're just oblivious to it and they're not going to be as aware. They're the dominant culture so they don't need to know all the rules of the subordinate cultures or whatnot. They should, but they're just not aware of it.
Mental load and having it all
The amount of extra energy and effort to that goes into parenting. There's been a lot of research and evidence that women pick up all of that mental load. Does everyone have clean underwear and socks? Who knows when all the doctor's visits are? Who schedules all of those? It’s all of these intimate details. Mostly the women manage all of that.
I experience those differences even at work and even in a field where we're all really well-versed in critical and feminist theories. I still see it within our department and the frustration with someone taking maternity leave. Women are being asked more personal questions around their leave. We can't change that culture unless we change a lot of workplace policies and school policies.
The school day is just set up still for that kind of traditional stay-at-home mom, breadwinner dad family because someone would be home at 3:00pm to pick up kids or drop them off. Working families are the ones that are really taking the brunt of it. It's frustrating because it would be great to have it all. There's this push to have it all, but that's not really a manageable life either.
It's really hard to be the best employee and be the best parent. To be super involved with everything and have a personal life, sustain your friendships, and keep the things that are meaningful to you, like your family. There aren't enough hours in the day to have it all. How do you balance all of that without feeling like a total failure? The standards are much higher for women than men. Certainly for parenting it is. You can do the bare minimum and you're the most amazing dad.
Raising emotionally aware boys
How do I raise feminist kids when they only see their mom doing everything? They don't have a dad around to be an example. I'm so disappointed a little bit that I don't have girls to like pass along all of those Rah Rah Rah girl power, but in a way, maybe it is more important to pass it on to boys.
I think it was Gloria Steinem that said "We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” I try to encourage the kids to feel their feelings. We need to promote empathy, collaboration and social skills. There's more jobs that need those skills and leaders that need more of that. However, we still push boys to have to be tough and rough-and-tumble and boys will be boys. Boys will be kind humans. That's what they should be.
I try to cultivate an environment where the boys can feel safe to cry or to feel emotions and to be loved. There is a lot of research that parents actually spend more time holding and picking up baby girls than baby boys. There's subtle things in our behavior that prevent us from connecting with boys. When they're upset about something, allow them to feel that.
Natural exploration and guiding neutrality
I feel like I just want them to choose and pick the things they want to do and I'm fine that. My littlest loves to wear pink and they both love to wear ponytails. I think it's like around age five that they do start to really be affected by those gender stereotypes. It's a lot of challenging notions like I know women with short hair and I know men with long hair, we just kind of point those things out subtly. I tried to sign my oldest one up for gymnastics one day and he said that gymnastics is something that mostly girls do, like ballet. I had to interject and say, “I know a lot of men who do ballet and gymnastics and remember when we watched the Olympics?
You see the influence that’s out of your control. Even in preschool, he knows all about all these superheroes even though he's never seen a Batman episode. He knows all the characters. I've asked him about that because that kind of came out of nowhere when he started liking the superhero things and he just got really fixated on supergirl. It could be he’s some feminist or it could be that he just likes her because she has blonde hair and blue eyes. Maybe there is some similarity there or I'm not sure, but I've tried to ask him about it and he just says he likes all the women superheroes. In some ways he's picking up at some gender things, but in other ways he's not really.
Or, just trying to being mindful of expanding narrow gender boxes. When we have new books or toys or I sign them up for activities, I sometimes ponder if this will expand or limit their expectations of what they could grow up to be. I imagine this might be more poignant if I had kids of both sexes.
The importance of language
I really do feel like language matters a lot, just even these subtle interactions. There's no reason to segregate and say boys and girls. For example, in a classroom settings when teachers address the class as children versus boys and girls. When you use "boys and girls" that just furthers the segregation of gender types and reinforces it on the kids who actually keep it neutral because they're all kids. Why are we highlighting that piece?
I always try to be mindful of using pronouns. I often find that I hear myself defaulting to saying "he" when referring to their stuffed animals, or animals we see in nature, for example, or talking about professions (e.g., "oh, look at that bee, he's flying over to us!" or he the scientist, he the mail carrier, etc.). So I try to be sure to mix it up and use "she" (although to be really inclusive, using other pronouns would probably be helpful too) and to use gender-inclusive language (like firefighter vs fireman; actors vs actress; humankind vs mankind). I've also tried to let them come to their own gender conclusions about themselves, as in, if asked if they are a boy or a girl, I always let them identify with how they want and it wasn't a big deal to me when they referred to themselves as girls at ages one or two when figuring these things out. I've had strangers refer to them as girls/she in the past and I typically just let it go but then these strangers often act horrified/embarrassed when they realize they are boys. I kind of wonder if their reaction is more revealing than the innocent mistake, because really, all kids look pretty much the same when they are babies/wobblers, unless they are decked out in total gender-stereotyped clothes, which I always tried to avoid.